4 Ways To Build Optimism

Lake Erie, January

1. Moving the body.
When you feel “stuck”, then it’s time to embody something different. By this, I mean things like taking a walk, simply standing up, or lifting your arms overhead to stretch. We are built to move, and our bodies need to remain fluid and flexible. Consider small, very small steps to take in this direction and notice the impact on your emotions, outlook. What seems doable, enjoyable, in this moment?
2. Meditation. What if you trusted yourself to know how to do this? It takes practice, yes, and yields great benefits. Even for 5 minutes, consider sitting down and noticing your breath in and out. Or take a walk, and notice your surroundings. Centering prayer, mindfulness, or other traditions provide ways to focus attention, quiet the mind, and cultivate new choices. Ann Cushman says in Moving into Meditation, “But a mindfulness practice is not primarily about getting somewhere else. It’s about opening to where you actually are–to what’s true for your real body, your real life. It’s about entering into the realm of your senses: hearing the rain on the roof and the swish of car tires in the puddles, smelling the soured milk and lemon peel in the garbage disposal.”
3. Go outside. Even if you venture outdoors for 5 minutes to clear your head, you have opened a window of possibility. If it’s raining, why not put on a raincoat, or take an umbrella?
4. Write down your experience. Take 5 minutes and write down what you are experiencing in the moment. Allow yourself to write freely, without concern about punctuation, grammar. Write for your own eyes. Then, if you like, tear it up or keep it. Your choice! Sometimes using the written word to gain clarity is remarkable.

Coming to the Senses

digital roots

The human body receives constant sensory input that provides up to the second information about the world around us. This is great news! And thankfully, we are created to modulate these responses. So, how can we use this amazing instrument, the human body, and play healthier music within? Intentionally noticing the five hard-wired senses gives us opportunities to do just this.

Whether or not you believe in behavioral resolutions this time of year, bringing awareness into our lives is a powerful practice. Why? Because when we go through the motions of the day without noticing how we feel physically or emotionally, stress, body pain, and inflammation occur. Instead, when we tune in and witness what our sensations and reactions are, we can use this information to calm, center, and choose a different response. 

Use this simple exercise to practice sensory self-care. Please be patient and compassionate with yourself. Noticing the world around you, your reactions, is a process of change by itself. It takes practice, for all of us, every day, moment by moment. 

What sight, sound, touch, smell or taste reminds you of relaxation, comfort, joy… or any other positive emotion or experience that’s linked to your health?

Take a few moments to be still and visualize easy, accessible things you can do to bring pleasant awareness to the senses. Is it listening to a favorite song on the way to work? Enjoying a cup of tea with a friend? Using essential oils? Feeling the feet on the ground as you sit at your desk? Wiggling the toes? Looking up from the laptop and allowing eyes to rest? Taking time to really taste food while chewing? Taking a deep breath? Hugging someone you care about, love? (Remember, to get a hug you’ve got to give one).

Be as specific as you can and write down three things that bring you relaxation for each sense. Before you begin, take a few deep breaths. As you hold your pen, or write on your laptop, drop shoulders away from ears. You may want to write about or focus on one sense each week, or each day. Do what “makes sense” to you!





















After you complete the exercise, even if you haven’t actually done any of these things yet, check in with yourself and notice your mood. What do you notice? How’s your body feel, compared to when you began this writing or visualization exercise?

Incorporate with any meditation practice and en-joy coming to your senses.

Writing & Befriending Brain’s Reticular Activating System

writing it down
writing it down


Search for books on keeping a journal, and you’ll find many. I own at least fourteen and can think of several more I’d like to read. One can find themes of writing for health, goal oriented writing, and expressive writing, for example. I believe writing is for EVERYONE. Really. Writing is not necessarily therapy, however writing is therapeutic. Writing is also an active process which can be used to move from hopes to action. Regardless of your assumptions about the quality of your writing, or what messages you’ve heard along the way, you can gain benefits from putting pen to page. Let’s call this process Journal Writing. We’re talking about writing for yourself, for your eyes only. Why is this important? When you write without filters, as if no one else is listening besides yourself, you will learn to write from the heart. Themes come alive, what you pay attention to, what you’ve learned, been through, who you are, what you stand for. Your Journal can be your good friend. To that end, let’s call it Journal for now, because it’s a relationship, and a loving one.

Journal can be written on a computer or paper, your choice. I prefer paper, since I can seem to bring more awareness to the whole process, such as breath, pen moving on page, sounds around me. I started keeping a journal ten years ago, after some apprehension. I knew I wanted to do it, and didn’t know how to start. I went to a conference, read a bunch of books by Kathleen Adams, a journal therapist from Colorado. Since then, I’ve read quite a few others and used a journal frequently as a personal tool and with coaching clients as well. There’s no question that I’m an advocate of this tool! Journal lives by my bed for final thoughts, gratitude or prayers, one on my desk for business ideas and projects, one for meditation, one for my Hatha Yoga Teacher Training journey. I’ve kept some pages over the years, shredded some, burned some.

One book I like quite a bit that I keep returning to (I read it on a plane several years ago and still have my original notes, which I have cut and pasted with a glue stick in my other journals) is Write It Down, Make It Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser. One of the many things that captured my attention in her book was the description of the human reticular activating system. Here’s a 4-minute video that describes this concept, not by Dr. Klauser, yet I liked the white board approach. It’s a reminder that what we pay attention to is what we create.

 “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power”—Alan Cohen

Flowing Into Seasons


September is a powerful month of change. Beginnings, endings, comings and goings. Before you find yourself in Ocotober, why not write down some memories of the summer?

Here are some ideas:

What surprised me this summer was…

What I’d like to carry with me this fall is…

The book title of my summer would be…

The song of the summer, for me, was…

This summer, I laughed about…

This fall, I want to let go of…

This fall, I want to bring in…

This summer, I celebrated….

That was important to me because…

I’d like to do _____again, next summer.

I will remember most this one thing…

This summer, I learned that I want to practice more of…

This fall, I will…




Let The Summer Begin

Rose of Estelle May Scarborough
Rt. 2 Rose

Summer Tool Kit

Here are some tried and true practices to help you move forward, pause, refresh, learn. Some things are kind of old-fashioned too, just like this very old rose of my grandmother’s, dug up at least twice and moved from a beloved mountain paddock to a new Central Virginia home.

  • Check In. What’s your internal weather report?  Notice and practice your breathing. Notice how your body feels during day, where you hold stress. Breathe into those areas. What are your heart and gut saying? We make healthier, more informed choices when we are aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body signals. Use this as a centering practice during calm. Your body will remember because you strengthen these neural pathways just like muscle.
  • Walk. Move the body. Get outside early in the morning. Listen to the sounds, observe the breath. Commit to giving yourself 5 minutes. Read about walking meditation.
  • Do a 180. Seek a compassionate view of yourself. Notice internal dialogue. What you say to yourself about what you can and cannot do, who you are or are not– matters. Challenge those beliefs. Focus on meaning, not the story. Learn a new, fun skill that has nothing directly to do with an area of challenge. Laugh. Dance in your room with your headphones on.
  • Write. Focus on areas of life you feel competent inIdentify your strengths, your gifts. Write them down. Be specific. Ask someone you trust and care about to name 3 strengths they see in you. Experiment with journaling in new enviroments, such as a coffee shop or outdoors. Find a journal buddy to write with, kind of like parallel play young children engage in—no need to share, just be beside someone.



Being Alive




Consider this expressive writing prompt: What makes you soar?

Write For Health

Strong Canopy
Strong Canopy

The expression, “words are powerful’, tells many stories. What science continues to demonstrate is just how this power can translate into health. In 1986, James Pennebaker, University of Texas psychologist, conducted a landmark study of expressive writing with 46 college students. What he found surprised him; that  after 3 months, a health indicator such as number of physician visits for illness decreased 43 percent in the expressive writing group. Today, several hundred articles exist in the scientific literature on the benefits of expressive writing. Diverse populations ranging from those surviving breast cancer, to pre-exam college students, to at-risk youth, trauma survivors, spouses of veterans, to arthritis patients have been studied and shown to benefit from expressive writing.

The common thread appears to be writing about emotional content and significant experiences, both positive and negative. Writing for health usually involves unedited, private material. Whether or not one keeps the journal is up to the writer, and merely a matter of preference. Some like to review and see evidence of personal growth (the “Wow, I got through that!” phenomenon), others like to destroy their writing. The simple act of putting words down is the change agent, whether it’s making meaning of events, gaining perspective, letting go of what continues to bother us or keep us up at night.

If you want to get started, check out Dr. Pennebaker’s page. The suggestions are clear and additional resources are provided. Why not start today?

Alpha Poems

Summer’s Crop Mathews County, Virginia

I enjoy driving by this roadside farm, noticing how the view of the building and field completely changes throughout the year. This time I stopped and snapped a picture, and it seems to connect with some of my recent reflections.

My mother’s words came to mind recently— “Estelle, there’s nothing constant but change“. I used to feel irritated when she spoke this phrase; now, I hear wisdom. My mother is pretty darn healthy, coming up on 90 years of age. She’s weathered some big tides. I wrote an Alpha Poem in response to my memory.

Change comes, sometimes creaking, or crashing
Ownership generally
Together we can continue
Allowing ourselves to
Nestle in

I share the concept of Alpha Poems with friends and clients on a regular basis. I first learned about them when our son’s early elementary teacher gave each student a poem at year’s end. Using the students’ first names, she wrote a poem describing positive attributes of each child. I appreciated this gift, keeping it on the refrigerator for quite a while. I started writing my own Alpha Poems after learning about the practice of journal writing for health, through the work of Kathleen Adams.

To write your own Alpha Poem,  start by choosing a word, and use each letter of the word to form the first letter of each line. Play with using your name, someone else’s name, letters of the alphabet, emotions, concepts, relationships, sounds…anything.  Allow yourself the freedom to write your own poetry, for yourself, unedited. Be curious about images, ideas, words that you see, hear or experience.

Alpha poems are great for stress relief.  They capture themes quickly and get them down on the page with only a few words. Of course, you can write long alpha poems too. Go for it!